Everyone You Love Dies


astor_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif feng_icon.gif zach_icon.gif

Scene Title Everyone You Love Dies
Synopsis Feng delivers one final message to Ethan Holden.
Date January 20, 2011

Old Dispensary

One of the things Eileen likes most about New England is that the dramatic change of seasons, more colourful and lyric than anywhere else she's lived, but maybe that's because this coming autumn will mark three years: the longest she's stayed in one place since leaving London at sixteen. It transforms trees into glass, their naked branches limned with silver frost and makes dusty mirrors of Staten Island's many lakes and ponds around which red-winged blackbirds still congregate and supply the white winter landscape with splashes of colour in gold and scarlet.

There's an overturned rowboat lodged in the frozen earth where the land meets the water behind the Dispensary that Eileen will fill with soil and make a garden of in the spring, and it's nice to be able to think about these things once and awhile and not dwell on the fact that she might not be here anymore when the first flowers crack through the thawing snow. She's a human being like anyone else with wants and desires that lay outside her work. A woman first, terrorist second, and right now she is more preoccupied with boiling water for tea in the kitchen after a hot bath than she is with future plans.

Coat pulled on over nightgown for additional warmth until it gets dark and she feels justified starting a fire in the hearth, she hovers her hands a few inches away from the stove's open flame and waits for the kettle to whistle. The Dispensary is one of the few places that she doesn't need a bird to get around, but she prefers being able to see to navigating her surroundings by memory. The magpie on her shoulder flicks iridescent green feathers that appear black in dimness of the kitchen as outside the sun sinks under the horizon and the owls begin to stir.

Her radio's reception is clear for a change, and the less-scratchy-than-usual sound of classical music drifts from the kitchen and floats up the stairwell and into the Dispensary's narrow upstairs corridors like some kind of familiar ghost.

Everything here is familiar, scuffs on the floorboards and even chipped paint on the walls. The rough texture of the kitchen counter beneath her hands, the rattling of the pipes in the sink, the way cold seems to radiate from the windows and the exterior walls on an evening like this. It gives a sense of home and familiarity that she hasn't had in years, and is likely why — despite the Dispensary's dangerous location in the Outer District — effort has gone into maintaining it and refusing to abandon the last place she's been able to call home.

Those faint twilight scraps of sunlight yet still manage to break thorugh the patchy clouds outside at this hour, though what little bleeds west to east across the Staten Island coast is contrasted by dark gray clouds blotting the sky where the sun doesn't shine. Another winter storm is coming, and the radio had said earlier warnings of eight to ten inches of snow more.

Hopefully Raith comes home in time to shovel.

Familiar, too, is the table in the adjacent dining room. Visible in the corner of the Magpie's eye and Eileen's mind's eye, its weathered old surface harkens back to less pleasant memories. A ghost of a man she once considered family in the body of a man she considered enemy. Too many dinners and the ghosts of troubles past haunt that room, and her.

The corners of Eileen's mouth crease around a sad smile. It's painful to think that if what remained of Kazimir had somehow survived, he would not be able to sit at that table again regardless; her feelings toward him in the end and Gabriel's were very different, and even if they weren't, there are some things that can never be forgiven.

A knuckle brushes her eye and comes away faintly dewy. She wipes off the back of her hand on the front of her nightgown, her thoughts interrupted by the kettle's sudden squealing. Loose leaf tea is preferable to the kind that comes in prepackaged bags, and she measures out the appropriate amount from a tin for steeping. A ceramic pot of honey stands in for sugar, and heavy cream in place of milk. It's going to be thicker and sweeter than she'd probably like, but she isn't eating anything with it so that's all right.

She checked the snares earlier in the afternoon and hopes that one of the men brings home something from the mainland because their traps haven't put anything on the table for several days. They may need to start baiting the wood.

Upstairs in her bottommost dresser drawer, watched over by an old, irate raven, a baby raccoon named Tiger Roche is curled up in a Norwegian sweater and sleeping.

Two hands steady the kettle when she pours.

Two hands tighten reflexively when one of her blackbirds perishes, abruptly.

The sensation is like cold ice down the back of her shirt. Without being physically present in the bird, there's no jarring sensation of personal expiration, but the death of something she was even tangentally linked with cascades through her mind and her connection to other birds like a ripple across the surface of once-still water.

Another of the blackbirds is cut off from her, struck dead where it roosts in the tree. No sound, no sight accompanies it. In the moment between hastening breaths and heartbeats, a third blackbird is killed. The wind outside blows hard against the ocean-facing side of the house, creaking old wood and rattling windows.

One blackbird she could pass off as the work of a fox or a feral cat. Two defies a natural explanation. The third has her abandoning her kettle, flicking off the burner, then radio, and moving with swift purpose toward the holster draped over the back of her chair by the table and the pistol hanging heavily in it. The muscles in her back are still sore from her chance encounter with the late Aude Castalides the night before, and she wishes Deckard had been gentler with her because it makes this hurt more than it should.

It doesn't slow her down or distract her from her purpose, which is staying away from the windows that aren't already boarded up. Her bare feet crack against the wood, and her hand not clutching the pistol holds the front of her coat shut rather than stop to button it.

There could be any number of people on the other side of the brick and glass, but she's already narrowed it down to exactly three, and as far as she's aware two of them haven't set foot in New York City for months.

She stands a better chance of survival if this is still the case. Daniel Walsh she thinks she can handle. Feng Daiyu and Sylar are going to be a little more difficult.

Another bird dies, this one closer than the last, which was closer than the one before it. There's no sign out in the snow and the dimming light of what's causing the deaths, just a steady progression of very deliberate kills encroaching closer on the Dispensary from the shoreline. When a fifth blackbird is slain, that is when Eilen can hear a faint sound over the whistle of the calming wind.

It sounds similar to someone slapping a rolled up newspaper down on a table. It also happens to be the sound of a noise suppressor on a rifle, just barely close enough to hear. An untrained ear may not have picked it up, but appearances aside Eileen may be a woman first, but she is still a terrorist second.

Whoever it is outside is doing this on purpose; psychological warfare.

That rules out Sylar. The rifle, not the psychological warfare. "Ethan," she calls up the stairs, and her voice is not as steady as it was in her head. Eileen has become much calmer under pressure since coming to America, but there's someone outside her last safe place in the city and blasting blackbirds into puffs of shredded feathers and gore. She's also alone.

She knows because Ethan doesn't answer, and when she tries the same thing with Jensen's name, the only reply she receives is another round from the rifle. The remaining birds in the area, blackbirds and starlings both, sleek and glossy, scatter into the air at Eileen's urgent command as her feet carry her up the stone stairwell. Gabriel's attic would be the best place to hide if she had any intention of hiding. Instead, she throws open the door to one of the unused rooms on the second floor, presses her back to the wall closest to the window and focuses on establishing a rhythm to her breathing.

What the birds in the air can see will determine her next move.

Vision brought skyward soon reveals the source of the intrusion, though it is the keen hunting senses of a barn owl that picks up the motion of a figure in a drab gray wool jacket and knit cap moving up through the heavy snow. The muzzle flash from the rifle signals the death of a wholly different bird, picked straight out of the sky before the rifle is slung up over the man's shoulder and he continues his way up towards the old brick-faced building.

Down by the shoreline, a Zodiac raft is beached on the frozen shores, its engine off and a paddle driven into the snow nearby. Feng had the sense to approach from the water, the darkest side of the island during twilight hours, and before the owls roused from their sleep. That changing of the guard from diurnal to nocturnal animals.

Exchanging his rifle for a handgun, the intruder occupies his other hand with one of four gas canisters hanging off of his belt, pulling the pin and keeping the canister close to himself as it begins to belch out a thick gray smoke that billows like a chimney plume up around him, wind blowing it towards the Dispensary, beginning to create a leveling of the playing field as the smoke obscures his position on the ground.

Feng Daiyu spent the better part of his life infiltrating hardened facilities and hunting people. Whether or not he was the superior hunter to Ethan Holden is a matter of contention that is not only stil up for debate, but the source of their enmity and rivalry.

Even second best is dangerous enough, and Eileen has the scars to prove it.

But if Feng Daiyu were alone, that would be one matter.

He's not.

Three more figures are only just now breaking out from the treeline, one of them clad entirely in black with a balaclava mask pulled down over his face. An assault rifle is clutched to his chest as he hops in a jog through knee-deep snow. Another man dressed in a black denim jacket and loose jeans is pulling a pistol from the back of his pants as he moves out towards the front yard of the residence, and the third is staying on the edge of the treeline with a bolt-action rifle, fur-trimmed hood pulled up on his thick canvas jacket, snow goggles over his eyes and a ski mask covering his mouth.

Eileen does not like to think about what will happen if the Dispensary is taken, she's killed and the others return to the property not knowing what has transpired and, one by one, walk straight into an ambush. That the gas is smoky gray and not yellow, at least, is a good sign; in even the worst case scenario, the odds are in Gabriel's favour, though the same cannot be said of Ethan and Raith.

She has enough time to stop by her room, pick up her phone and lock the door behind her before she's headed back down the stairs as fast as her legs will carry her, magpie scissoring its wings a few feet away from her head.

What she does not have time to do is type out a text message longer than:

dispensary compromised. meet at river house.

Her leading foot hits the ground floor and she steers herself down the hall that leads out the back. The door opens with a gentle click rather than a thundering explosion. Snow and ice churn under her feet, and she sprints into the trees.

Foxes are quicker to flee than they are to stand and fight when confronted at the mouth of their den as long as there is another exit.

The youngest and least well-trained of the squad is the one closest to Eileen when she makes a break for it. Feet sliding in the snow, he scrambles up a low embankment made by plowing and trains his handgun down at her, firing repeatedly and unsupressed. Bark explodes off of a tree and the sound of a second bullet buzzes past Eileen's right ear and disturbs her hair. He's a terrible shot, even at close range. "She ran into the woods!" The young man screams, dropping down the embankment and sliding towards the treeline, beginning to make a break for the woods to give chase.

Feng's progress to the building itself goes undeterred, a window is smashed inward as the Viper slithers his way inside, landing in a crash on the floor and disappearing once more from sight as wind disperses his smoke shroud. The hunter in the treeline begins to circle wide, keeping his hunting rifle at the ready as booted feet plough through the snow, moving in a wider arc away to try and get himself ahead of the fleeing young woman's telemetry.

The third man, dressed in black, watches the younger of the team race off into the woods after Eileen. His head shakes slowly from side to side, and he considers the building that Feng disappeared into, before breaking away from the team to head down the snowy shore back towards the water, moving on opposite sides of the woods from the ski-masked member of Feng's team, while their young and stupid companion continues to fire blindly into the woods in pursuit.

Bran will be safe. There are hiding places that the old raven knows to retreat to where Feng won't be able to find him, and if that fails he's been taught to open the bedroom window. It's the others she's worried about, knowing that phones can be turned off and text messages left undelivered. Thorns from the underbrush prick at her feet and break skin but do not draw enough blood from her legs to leave a trail that can be followed without the use of a dog, and for the first time ever Eileen is wishing that Raith hadn't left his with Smedley.

The Garden is miles away, and she doesn't have the stamina to keep up this pace for much longer than it will take her to get clear, if she gets clear. Taking cover behind a tree with a thicker trunk than the one that the young man dinged (with a 'warning shot' if she's feeling optimistic, and she isn't), she sucks in a sharp breath, pale fingers tangled around the front of her coat so it doesn't flap out and give away her location, and returns fire: a sharp pop-pop-pop of her pistol designed to either make her pursuer slow down or take cover.

This isn't the first time Eileen has been forced to engage in combat in a wooded environment like this, though the hunt for the illusionist Grigori that ended in a snowy forest north of Moscow wasn't as desperate as this. Back then, she had Ethan, Feng, Hans, Ellinka, Alexi, Rasoul and Kazimir to rely on, to protect her. She was the team's eyes.

Maybe this is what Grigori felt like; cornered, helpless.

The woods also aren't on fire. But the similarities are there never the less.

Gunfire rouses awareness, coming from a direction other than where her young pursuer took cover behind a felled log. It's a higher caliber round from a further distance, judging from the cracking noise echoing in the air. The round strikes so far from where Eileen is as to suggest that it was only suppressing fire, meant to distract and disorient. Some of these men seem to know what they're doing.

Eileen's breath, visible as a growing cloud of steam, comes between shuddering breaths. The tickling sensation of blood running in rivulets down her bare legs is only just barely felt, the cold robbing most sensation already.

Another gunshot sounds off, and from the vantage point of a bird in the loftier branches, Eileen is privy to the emergence of the black-clad man up from the shoreline, firing single shots from his M-16 into the woods, angled down towards the ground so at to not shoot through towards where his compatriots are assumed to be moving from.

Remaining eyes in the sky show Feng's emergence from the Dispensary from the front door, while the birds in their frantic search have lost sight entirely of the man in the ski mask. If Eileen's esimate is correct, she has twelve rounds left— if the magazine was full.

There are probably worse ways to die than in your nightgown with still-wet hair freezing to your face in weather that makes your lungs burn when you breathe. Eileen makes a strangled sound of frustration at the back of her throat. The smoke on the ground makes it impossible for the birds to clear a safe route out of the forest or for her to navigate the trees and underbrush whether or not she can see through her own eyes.

With the over-eager young man crouched behind a log, she breaks again, this time in the direction opposite from the shoreline instead of parallel to it. There are no straight lines, and the suppressing fire is doing its job; turned around, she doesn't remember where she set the snares this morning, never mind whether or not her magazine was full, and plunges headlong into the underbrush with a prayer that she doesn't get her foot caught in a metal wire or something worse.

Her magpie wings out ahead of her, sailing through smoke, and supplies her with rough vocalizations to follow.

Darkness has begin to suffocate the forest, and here lies where Eileen's one true advantage is. She is already in the dark, permanently. It is her pursuers that must rely on a mundane sense of sight and sound in order to navigate their way. While Feng Daiyu and his team may have been able to sneak their way into the perimeter of the Dispensary under cover of twilight, the encroaching darkness has given them a small window in which to perform their operation.

Gunshots ring out in the dark, bullets strike trees and muzzle flash lights at Eilen's back. There's a strangled sound of something pained behind her, followed by a crash as her young pursuer is tangled in the very snares that Eilen herself had been fretting over. His crash downwards to his face in snow and deadfall branches ends his chase, even as the round from a .306 hunting rifle explodes a divot in the tree in front of her.

Birds zipping through the branches provide Eileen with a semblance of comprehensive situational awareness that most soldiers in the field would kill for, even if it is limited by the few birds left to see through and their fractional vision in night-time hours.

The old barn owl, however, sees what is closing in on Eileen. The presence of that ski-masked man tucked behind a tree is visible only in the barest of moments before Eileen would have run head-long into his ambush. Her arrest of movement has her feet sliding out from beneath her on the cold ground where snow and ice had made its way thorugh a thinned canopy.

She lands on a downwards inclide, sliding right past her would-be attacker, soon breaking into a roll as momentum throws her down the snowy hill to land at the bottom. Ice crusts her hair, cold sends her body into shivering throes of impending hypothermia, and her gun has been lost somewhere amidst the fall.

As the ski-masked attacker's footfalls can be heard crunchign closer, Eileen's dazed vision reconnects with her avian cohorts flitting up in the darkness of the branches. The barn owl has settled down on a knotted branch over the low spot in the terrain where she's fallen, able to see the masked man making his way towards the edge of the hill, shouldering his rifle as he crouches to pick up her discarded gun from the snow, shaking it off.

"I've got her!" He calls out to the others, before starting the descent down to her battered and shivering frame. That he isn't shooting her down where she lays is likely indicative of some other, more prolonged plan. But out of all the things Eileen sees through her birds, it's what her prickling numb fingers feel that is the most surprising to her.

Buried six inches down in the snow, one errant hand ploughed into something cold and metal. The familiar feeling of a fixed-bladed knife's grip is obvious even with cold-numbed hands. Sharp on both sides, long and tapered to a point designed to puncture deep.

Sharp, like new.

"C'mere darlin'," the southern-accented man croons as he approaches the matchstick thin young woman, making the same mistake that too many before him have made.

Assuming she's helpless.

At first, Eileen isn't sure what her fingers have closed around, only that it has an edge that can cut, which is good enough for her. She brings her arm into her chest as if injured and clutching at her side, but it's not to staunch the unseen flow of blood; it's to conceal the weapon from view until he's close enough. Her breast heaves, breaths coming fast and ragged, and that isn't part of the act. Fear shows the whites of her eyes and a flash of teeth bared in silent warning.

It's the only one that he gets. When he takes to a knee and drops to her level, she rises to meet him, and her experience in the basement of an abandoned psychiatric hospital with Teodoro Laudani has taught her that if you want to kill someone the stomach is a terrible place to aim.

She buries the knife all the way up to the hilt in the man's throat, grasping it with both her small, trembling hands, then levers it sideways with enough force to split his neck all the way open. A severed artery spills blood out onto the snow and fills her nose and mouth with the taste of it, and a hard push rocks him back so he doesn't fall forward and pin her to the snow under his dead or dying weight.

She can worry about where the knife came from later.

With a ruthless efficiency that would have made the most brutal of the Vanguard knife-fighters proud, Eileen Ruskin's small hands split a man's throat open with a small length of metal as razor-sharp fulcrum. Blood bleeds dark into the snow, warm too in the way that steam rises up from the open neck wound, as if the man's soul were leaving his body through that cruel cut. He moves, if only feebly, like a wounded animal in helpless pawing at his neck as blood pulses out with each frantic heartbeat, some of it spilling out his mouth as well.

He dies with gurgling terror, fingers curled at his throat and body rolled in on itself in the same position he was likely in before he was born. Crunching footfalls attract the attention of Eileen's hearing, keener now that perhaps it has ever been. The owl too sees what makes the sound, that darkly dressed member of Feng's team closing in on Eileen's position with anxious trepidation.

"Jaines," he calls out on making his way through the trees, "Jaines!" The matte black of his assault rifle is raised up towards the edge of the embankment, and he comes to a slow stop. "Becker?" That much is called over his shoulder towards the young man tangled up in the snare.

"Fuck," the black-clad merc grunts as he edges closer to the edge of the embankment, looking up into the treetops only when he finally remembers Feng's warning, unaware of the owl observing from afar.

Eileen wipes off the flat of the blade on the inside of her thigh and does not check to see if it comes away clean. The owl's lamp yellow eyes watch the mercenary on the edge of the embankment, tracking his movements with the same quiet intensity that it might follow the sound of tiny mouse feet rustling through the dead leaves. He'll see a shimmer of emerald-coloured feathers lit bright when her magpie's wing strikes a shaft of sunlight, but then it's vanished into the forest canopy.

That's three of them accounted for. The magpie will search out the fourth — Feng, wherever he is.

"Whatever he's paying you," she barks at the shadow shaped like a man, "my people will double it." Eileen crouches in the snow, splays her fingers and they're not so numb that she doesn't feel them bump against the knife's forgotten sheath, which she then slips into the inside of her coat for safekeeping. If she survives this, she's going to need something to put it in so she doesn't sliver herself open by mistake.

"S'at so?" Is a response from over the hill, "don't seem much like you're in a bargaining position t'me, darlin'." A sweep of the merc's thumb puts the assault rifle on semi-automatic as he creeps a touch more forward. "Did you know there's a fairly sizable reward for your live capture by the Department a'Homeland Security? Seems a right nice way t'do my civil duty t'my country, an' also cahs in a quick buck. When we get your little pig-fucker friends we'll all be able t'retire on a nice sandy beach somewhere."

Tonguing the inside of his cheek, the darkly clad mercenary takes one more hesitant step towards the edge of the hill, still not quite far enough to see Eileen in the low ground below. "Seems like we're a man shy of the split too, guess tha' means it might be a nicer, warmer beach for me."

Reaching down to his side, the merc's gloved hands unclasp a matte olive colored cylinder marked with some circular holes down its length. White stenciled writing along the side reads Model 7290 Flash Bang, and one gloved thumb hooks in the pin as he lowers his assault rifle with his other arm. "Negotiatin' seems a bit moot at that point, yeah? But if you wanna walk on up here, maybe we can talk it out some?"

Further down in the treeline, Eileen's hawkish sentries pick out a slim and gray-dressed figure making slow progress into the treeline. For all his bravado earlier Feng doesn't look to be in a hurry to get into the woods with Eileen. He stops some fifty feet shy of where the young Becker has gotten his dumb ass tangled up in a snare, and unshoulders his rifle, popping the cover off of the scope. A gloved thumb pushes up the brim of his knit cap, and one eye squints shut as he trains the rifle down through the treeline, a night-vision scope sweeping through the trees before stopping on something more visible amidst the branches.


Muted muzzle flash and suppressed rifle fire precedes an explosion of feathers and blood up in the branches as Eileen's barn owl is decimated by the .308 round from Feng's scoped rifle, raining pulverized bird remnants down onto the snow with reddish and brown shedding.

Eileen's pale skin and the gardenia white weave of her nightgown act as camouflage, and from a distance it's not clear where the snow ends and the Englishwoman begins. In the last few minutes of sunlight, the dark shapes in the depression where Jaines breathed his last could be her wool coat and stringy black hair, or they could simply be shadows.

Either way, she's running out of birds. Her dominant hand curls fingers around the knife's handle, but apart from the shallow rise and fall of her breathing, the rest of her body is perfectly still like a rabbit sheltering in the grass beneath the shadow of an eagle.

Negotiating won't work. Running will probably get her shot in the calf if not the back. Her best chance is to stay where she is and make as little noise as possible.

And then there is a boy in the woods.

A man, really. Young one. Long-limbed, dark-haired, eyelashes so long and curling they're like small black hands splayed against the raking shafts of sunlight atop his cheekbones, lofty-boned and olive-skinned. He's a good-looking kid, but he's garbed in a ratty gray suit jacket that probably used to be a paler shade before. It is too narrow for his shoulders, but it doesn't seem to inhibit the flow of his movement, like black water, flowing underneath the trajectory of sunshine. There's a pistol in his hand. A bird glimpses him and, funnily enough, nearly misses the greater shape moving quietly in his background.

Something to do with the colors. Brown and black is a favored palette of the mustangs of the West, the true wild Przewalskis of the East. Though the animal that follows Astor is better-domesticated than either of those estranged cousins, and well-trained besides, the darkness of its legs and dark toffee of its hide does a peculiarly good job blending it in with the clotted brown of seasonally-wilted underbrush, tree trunks, the thickness of brambles. Steam palely clouds in its nostrils, and its saddle-blanket flaps at the corners in a lick of wind.

Astor walks a bit like his legs aren't properly attached. One stride shorter than the other, herky-jerky and eerily afloat, as one might imagine an animate skeleton would jig its way across a stage-set on puppet-strings, but not because he's looking down, cautious about placing his own feet on uncertain terrain. No. His eyes are up, ignoring birds. Ignoring Eileen, for a moment. He lifts up his pistol like he isn't really quite sure what to do with it, a wobble to the muzzle, his arm sticking straight out, locking flat at the elbow. He pulls the trigger.

A gristly furrow the size of a fat middle-finger opens up along the last triggerman's jaw, exposing saliva glands pinkly to the sunshine.

Blood puffs in the air, freezes from the cold nearly as fast as the rifleman falls backwards with a keening sound, the flashbang dropped with pin still attached into the snow. He lands on his back, a hand clasping up at his face as he whines into the back of his throat and kicks his legs, the agonizing sensation of shattered bone, pulverized teeth and torn flesh lancing through his senses like a hot iron cauterizing his mouth. He can't even feel how bad the damage is from shock, but there's enough pain to terrify, enough blood to overwhelm.

The report of the handgun has Feng hesitating, looking out from his scope to the woodline, then ducking back behind a tree, unable to see the source of gunfire or make out Eileen's savior. It could be Holden or Raith, or it could be the fucking military. Either way, it's an unfortunately timed series of events.

Becker's struggle to get out of the snare finally ends, with cuts through his jeans and into his calf and shins from the metal wire. He pulls free, cursing down at the snare's tangled mass in the snow, then pulls himself up to his feet after snatching his pistol up from the snow. He doesn't consider omving forward, not after seeing Adler's jaw get blown off. There's some things not worth investigating further.

Scrambling backwards, Becker rushes all the way back past Feng, stopping only when he catches sight of the assassin over his shoulder. "C'mon," the boy insists, turning around, "we're done let's go." Feng's dark eyes narrow at the young man presuming orders, one brow lifting.

"Go on ahead," Feng mutters, leaning around the tree to peer into the woodline. "I'll be behind you."

No, he won't.

Satisfied with that much and having no interests in engaging in anything even close to a fair fight, Zachary Becker darts away from the Dispensary towards the road, tucking his handgun into the back of his pants and trying to keep his eyes on the skies, warned of the eyes that could be watching him.

Feng exhales a steaming breath, chambering another round into the single shot rifle, then leans out from behind the tree again, staring into the green-lit lens of his scope. Patient.

Eileen takes a few moments to reorient herself by using glimpses snatched through the thinning flock of birds. Dead ivy clinging to the side of the Dispensary with pieces of broken glass caught in its tangle, the window beside it glittering dangerously around the edges. A shimmer of something that is probably the length of Feng's rifle. Dead blackbirds crumpled and wilting in the snow.

This will not be the first time that she has placed her trust in a total stranger. Gabriel Wilkens used to be, once upon a time. At the bottom of the embankment, there's a flash of movement and a crackle of brittle branches snapped into motion as Eileen darts from her hiding place. Staggers when her ankle unexpectedly gives out beneath her, but she snags a low-hanging bough before she can fall, pulling herself back up the slope.

Her body took more of a bruising in the tumble than she thought, though her injuries are not so severe that she can't move under her own power or in Astor's general direction.

"Over here." There should have been an exclamation mark on that one, but Astor is bad at talking, it's been said. He clears his throat and tries again, moving quicker. The snow makes his boots slide and the horse dunders a bit in it, doesn't quite flounder, the shag of its winter coat picking up crystallized white fluff, annoyance in a grumbling snort. "Spurling."

His next bullet hits some kind of tree. He is not sure what breed. He sees something he really doesn't want to be there for him to see and it nearly breaks his stride, but he is compelled forward by a chagrined sort of obligation. His voice goes out again: an unfamiliar one. "I brought a horse!" There's an utter lack of irony in either that, or, "Come with me if you want to live." His tracks smudge. Men's boots, Size 12, better suited to his size than the jacket that pinches against his arm when he reaches out to grab the brittle hip of a birch tree, catching himself heavily. He's weaker than he looks.

Stubborn, though. He turns his head, blinking eyes dried out raw and red by the freezing cold. Spots her. Two dozen yards off still. The horse scuttles up behind him, flicking snow up with the coarse thread of its tail.

There's some symmetry here; Writers might call it an allusion.

There isn't so much as a word from wherever Feng is positioned after the gunfire into the trees, he can clearly see that Eileen is moving and that her unexpected savior is now finally in a visible location; horse in tow.

Instead, Feng's only message comes in the form of a soundless eruption of blood from Astor's shoulder opposite of the one Eileen is closest to. The impact of the shot sends spray of blood-red mist into the air out the back of Astor's body, spinning him around like a top and sending Astor collapsing downwards.

When he hits the snowy forest floor, his right arm falls limp to his side, the .308 round having bored a hole between shoulder and pectoral muscle that oozes wet and hot, steam rising from the point of entry and exit in the cold. Blood oozes from both openings, each pulse coming with his hastened heartbeat and a blinding wave of pain to intense it turns to cold numbness almost immediately. Fingers on Astor's hand twitch and spasm all their own, tingling and prickly numb.

With blood sprayed across one side of her face, some hers and some belonging to a merc and the noise of the suppressed rifle shot reverberating through the woods, Eileen is left with the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears, wings flapping, and an old friend watching her down the scope of his rifle. "Do I have your attention now?" Feng murmurs to himself, before making a gunshot noise with his mouth after training the crosshairs over Eileen.

He eases away from the scope, leans back against the tree and then slips back behind it, moving back towards the dispensary and further away from the pair. This wasn't the exact message he had planned on delivering to Ethan, but it's a close enough approximation.

The written message he carved into the wall of the kitchen will clear up any ambiguities:

Everyone you love dies, it says in crude, boxy letters.

Then you.

Eileen's bare legs, streaked with pink, come into Astor's view first. He can hear the shrill, racous cries of the birds still in the air covering the rustle and tramp of Feng's escape. Beneath that, the thin, asthmatic rasp of her breathing and crunching snow as she drops beside him and a small, cold hand that can't stop shaking presses against the entry wound through the material of his jacket.

That he knows her name is less important than the fact that he's hemorrhaging blood at an alarming rate. Her magpie swoops down, landing in a frosted branch above the horse's head and makes a shrill, metallic bleating sound to let the Englishwoman know that the men are retreating. The knife cuts a thick strip off her nightgown, exposing her legs above the knee, and she takes the blade in her teeth so both hands are free to make an attempt to counteract the bleeding.

The cold makes her hands clumsy. She lost feeling in her feet a few minutes ago. "Can you still hear me?"

No. Yes. No. Astor blinks dazedly at snow. He can't feel his face or really see straight, but he can hear her. That doesn't make any sense, does it? Uncertain of his levels of consciousness, he decides to try a test: "Get on the stupid horse." That sounds like him, even if he is talking to a skinny little Briton's alarmingly under-dressed ankles. Dimly, he wonders if this coat is giving him contagions from the puncture-wound. This is terribly inglorious. A sane horse would be more scared, but he'd picked an insane one on purpose.

It's standing with four legs straight, gassing the air with the heat from its lungs, but neither running nor any other sign of panic, holding its ground by the humans. Its tail lashes, left, right, picking up granulated snow. It can probably see through the trees better than either of its companions can, but it makes a piss-poor lookout, if the ability to communicate further danger in a clear and concise manner is a desirable trait. Astor blinks through a haze of pixelly static and hears himself groan.

His mouth is full of something liquid. He doesn't think he is close enough to sleep to have started drooling, so that's disturbing. "You need— to go."

Eileen's answer comes in the form of cloth cinched tight, the sound fabric makes when it slides quick together, and she ties both ends of the strip into a knot. She only narrowly avoids catching her fingers in the process.

Baby raccoons wrapped in scarves. Full grown men held together with pieces of her clothing. There's less of a difference here than it initially seems. She grabs fistfuls of Astor's coat and hauls him up into a sitting position, and if any of what's dribbling from the corner of his mouth gets in her hair then she's too focused on wrestling his good arm around her to notice.

"You're hurt," her voice curls against his ear, breath misty and warm at his throat. Blood is slippery and it's everywhere. "Hold onto me. We both will. Go."

But he feels heavy now. Far too heavy for a teeny twiggy woman to carry, surely. Astor would point out the woman's irrationality to her, but ugh, breathing is getting a bit difficult, never mind talking. Tears spring at his eyes when the knot wrenches into formation at his shoulder and he blinks them away while he blibs blood into the black fluff that catches itself in his mouth. He gets his legs under him through some mysterious powers that may have something to do with his Evolved ability, and groans again as he achieves two feet of vertical, then three.

Still hunkered over her shoulder like a disgusting mess of. Like. Walter, he decides, is the insult he's looking for. What is it with shoulder wounds? He had brought a horse out of necessity, nothing cinematic. Stupid horse; he glances up at the animal and tries to think something angry in its direction, but he nearly blacks out instead, foot stumbling, a knee nearly folding just short of falling facedown into the snow. He continues dying with bitter impatience.

It is surprising when his face meets coarse fur, the muscle of the animal's neck, and the perception comes as a tardy memory, of making the scramble up onto the saddle. He can't breathe very well with bulky withers compressing his ribs with the pressure of his own weight, but he thinks, if Eileen Spurling has any idea what she's doing, she'll come up with something before he finishes drowning and crushing himself between the dual simultaneous inconveniences posed by his own failing physiology. The horse doesn't balk at the smell of blood. Or whiskey, tobacco.

He doesn't have the composure to recognize the feel of her dressing gown torqued and wrinkling in the unrelenting grip of his near hand.

Eileen has enough upper body strength stored in her slender arms to pull herself up onto the horse's back after Astor. Her size in comparison to his demands that she fit herself snug between him and the horn of the the saddle, but her back also provides him with something softer to lean into. Her first priority is keeping him upright. Her second is making sure he stays conscious.

She has control over only one of these things, and it's marginal. One hand navigates his arm around her waist. The other winds the horse's reins between her fingers so tight that leather appears to cut into skin, reducing poor circulation to almost nothing.

She'd told the others to meet her at the river house where there are supplies, including a first aid kit, and it was at the river house that she and Abigail saved Nicholas York from suffering a similar fate after someone put a bullet in him and dumped him in the Atlantic.

All she can think about right now is what it's going to take for a repeat performance. "It's not far," she murmurs, coaxing the horse into a trot, then a canter. She doesn't trust a full-on gallop not to knock Astor back into the snow. "I know someone who can help you if you'll just hold on."

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